All posts filed under “sailing

Marquesas to American Samoa

We hauled anchor out of Hiva Oa, raised the mainsail, and keenly watched our repaired boom under full canvas. Was that flex? How much flex is too much flex? How strong is this wood boom compared to the original aluminium extrusion? Who knew.

Powering downwind between Hiva Oa and Tahuata, we spotted a sailing boat in the distance, as it vanished into an inlet on the lee of the island. With good wind and several hours of daylight left, we decided to meander around the corner and see what the anchorage looked like. On approach the masts appeared, along with a small white beach lined in palm trees and crystal clear water in the foreground. This was the Marquesas we were looking for. After over a week of rain, a heaving anchorage, and a long row ashore, we simply had to stop.

With the anchor down in clean azure water, the anchor chain was visible and arched all the way to the sandy bottom. I jumped overboard for a swim. Any sailor worth his weight in bronze, is constantly on the lookout for anomalies. Checking, listening, watching parts move, halyards potentially chafing – a keen eye and ear for trouble. I swam around and checked the rudder. Two large cracks along the cheeks had made themselves apparent, and flexing the rudder by hand expanded the cracks. Unfortunately this was a fairly serious show-stopper. The three most important things when sailing, are to keep the mast up, the water out, and the rudder on. Making things even more difficult, we were now in a fairly remote anchorage without access to any parts. Chris and I discussed our options. Can we pull the entire rudder off underwater, haul it up on deck, and re-glass it? If not, what could we achieve with the boat in the water? We decided we needed large stainless rod, and some kind of flatbar to make a repair good enough for us to continue on.

Our new friends from Hiva Oa on SV This Boat, Jim & Amy, happened to turn up later in the morning, and I rowed over for a second opinion. Jim said ‘I can give you as much help as you need, just let me know when’ – tomorrow? Sure. But we needed stainless rod. Jim mentioned that Suzie, an Australian from another boat in the anchorage, would be returning from Hiva Oa via the cross-island ferry. We got a hold of Suzie’s number, and texted her over the satellite phone. Yes! She would stop by the hardware store and pickup what we needed. Later that day, poor Suzie, who had been running around picking up things for everyone, arrived, holding the exact parts we needed in her hands. We woke up early, Chris had freshly baked bread ready, and I cooked our unrefrigerated bacon, scrambled eggs, and percolated coffee.

We spent the entire day in the cockpit with hand drills, tiny useless electric drills, blunt old bits, and hacksaws, making our repair. To get working room on the rudder, we placed Jim’s dinghy on the bow, and filled it with water. This provided enough weight to lift the stern up high enough to work. Without the required flatbar, I scarified the windlass handle, sawed it in half, and completed the all-day repair. Fairly confident in our work, we weighed anchor the following day and set sail for the Tuamotos, halfway between the Marquesas and the atoll of Suwarrow.

Eyes on the boom. Was that flex? Eyes on the rudder. Is that crack expanding? No. We sailed on, becalmed just few days on. Bobbing around, books read, bread and brownies baked, the days drifted by, the mainsail slatted and banged – both damaging to sailor and to boat. Being peacefully adrift in the middle of the ocean, is one of favourite parts of any passage (granted the days don’t turn into weeks!). We bobbed for a day and a half, the wind returned, strengthened, and gusted to 30 knots for two days. We howled downwind, fully reefed, a poled jib, and everything seemed to be holding up.

Fast asleep, the sure sound of breakage on deck. What have we lost now? The entire mast? Chris and I jumped up in seconds. The telescopic jib pole decided it wanted to collapse on itself, the jib flapped; nothing serious. The Tuamotos neared, only 60nm to the south. A strong SE wind was still blowing, and we pulled down a forecast to see how long it was supposed to last. The forecast showed strong winds for the next five days, and we desperately looked at our distance from sunny French atolls, and contemplated the alternative of solid wind onto Suwarrow. Being inside an atoll in strong wind is rarely pleasant, and we could make Suwarrow in 7 days with good wind. We changed course, and headed due west without stopping.

For days the wind blew, and we started doing our best 24 hour runs in terms of mileage – 120nm, 130nm, 140nm. One hundred short miles from Suwarrow, the wind backed, and I wondered if we would end up becalmed so close to paradise. However, the sun set, and 16kts of breeze appeared from nowhere. The following day, masts appeared in the lee of Suwarrow, and Harmony danced through the reef entrance inside the tight inner passage, and shortly our anchor was down once more.

After fourteen days at sea, we jumped in amongst the reef sharks and swam ashore. An imposing Cook Islander stood on pier Tom Neale allegedly built. He asked for our paperwork and to come ashore with passports. I was slightly taken aback – I hadn’t mentally planned for immediate bureaucracy. I actually had no idea Suwarrow was a clearance port.

Coconut trees, swings, the ‘Suwarrow Yacht Club’, a book swap full of terrible paperbacks. A statue of Tom Neale, and cleanly swept sand paths. Charlie, the second ranger on the island handed us drinking coconuts, ‘welcome to my island, this is my home’. It was his home, until he was 12. He even claims that Tom Neale was a fraud (spending only nine months on the island), a womaniser, and father of 29 children. I still don’t know what to believe.

We swam, waited for the breeze to return for our departure, fished with Charlie for Wahoo and Tuna, visited outer Motus (the small islands inside the atoll reef), circumnavigated the tiny island by foot, collected fishing buoys, and for the first time on the voyage, had a moment to enjoy the hard work it had taken to get there. I arrived in San Francisco in May, and it feels like the work hasn’t stopped since.

Today we are in American Samoa, re-provisioning, waiting for wind, and enjoying our brief stop amongst a people whom I think are the friendliest in the South Pacific.

Our next stop is Australia.

San Francisco to Marquesas

At 5am on June 12th, after a night of seeing off our really great San Franciscan friends, both new and old (you know who you are!), we moved over to the fuel dock for final pump-out, and to meet Rob during his graveyard shift at West Marine to pickup a fish drying net and say goodbye. Rob looked at the forecast on his phone, and said ‘you know it’s going to be 25kt winds and big seas, right?’ Yes… But between the delays and our departure anticipation, even a gale couldn’t have put brakes on our imminent departure.

Motoring out of Richardson’s Bay, the Sausalito waterfront was glassy-flat. As the tide dragged us out and under the Golden Gate bridge, a large tanker steamed past to port, as we trailed the edge of the shipping lane out to sea, where we would make our left turn. The seas rose, and before long, Chris and I were taking turns at laying on the cabin floor in our wet weather gear, rather miserable.

One of the (many) jobs before departure, was to replace a de-laminated tiller. I ordered in a new one, not possessing the time nor tools to fashion one myself, and stowed it in the bow. Wanting to keep the nice new tiller only until the other one was completely broken, seemed like a fair idea. I injected epoxy inside the joints, and secretly hoped I’d never have to use the new tiller at all! Three hours out of the Golden Gate, the connection onto the tiller from the windvane, over-stressed the lamination, and the tiller rapidly began to pull itself apart. Instead of attempting an at-sea repair, I decided we’d sail the 4 hours into Half Moon bay, and repair things once and for all. While happily rolling at anchor in Half Moon bay (which is where I actually departed for Hawaii from in 2009) in 22kts, I fondly remembered clam chowder bread bowls, raft ups, and Dungeness crab with friends, just four years prior. From now on, departures from San Francisco will always include a Half Moon stop. We made repairs to the boom, met a nice chap named Jim who was sailing his boat south with his pals Fleetwood Mac the following week. He handed us a hip flask of Moonshine (‘rumsky = half whisky, half rum) for our equator crossing, and we motored out into the anchorage once more for an early departure. Finding an old cray net in the trash, we threw the net over the side, and surprisingly caught a large crab for dinner.

Departing without a hitch in fog, we drifted out of Half Moon, and into the open sea. Before long a shark was spotted, a NOAA research vessel, a whale, and we were well and truly off in a light breeze. As the days rolled on, winds increased, but we had our sea legs, and life aboard started in earnest. Harrowing moments included the discovery of floating bilge boards at 3am, due to the cap of the speed log coming loose. Another involved a Windvane modification which led to the loss of a critical screw and steerage one dark night. Thankfully we had a spare and soldiered on.

After a week of fairly strong winds from the NW, we began getting hints of the NE trades, which began pushing us towards Hawaii. Downwind sailing is a miserable point of sail, and I decided to stay on a broad reach, until there was enough east in the NE trades to tack due south towards the equator, and into the SE trades. This tactic more or less worked, however we ultimately perhaps pushed too far west. This made things difficult after finally finding the SE trades, as we ended up hard on the nose in full trade conditions once they were established.

From about 20deg north, conditions were light and variable, mostly due to a depression/possible hurricane in the making 600nm NE of us which was destroying the wind pattern. The cheap secondhand spinnaker I bought didn’t last 30 seconds before colourfully exploding at the seams. So we were unfortunately left to do what we could with just a mainsail and 130% jib. One of the prices you pay for rapid preparation time and limited funds, is having to make do with what you have. Other than the absolute necessary gear, Harmony (much like Constellation) was really just setup for bay sailing, with some minor modifications (windvane, solar, liferaft). Crossing an ocean with just a jib and mainsail can be a real pain, and I have vowed to never leave again without a gennaker, and light air jib (drifter). Lack of sail area definitely contributed to our slow passage of 37 days from San Francisco to the Marquesas. With all that said, it’s possible to sail with most any sail combination, because I’m writing to you from French Polynesia.

Soon becalmed, and baking in the hot sun, we decided to take turns jumping off the boat. Tentatively, jumping in with a mask on, and gazing at the surreal and endless blue ocean below, the feeling of swimming in the warm azure ocean after three weeks of being cooped-up in our small boat was idyllic. Soon dolphins showed up, and we jumped in again, watching the dolphins from underwater, as they dove and darted through rays of watery sunshine below our boat. With a camera mounted on a pole, Chris jumped overboard so I could take some footage of him surrounded by dolphins. Hurriedly he jumped back into the boat exclaiming we were surrounded by yellowfin tuna. As he threw out lures, I loaded the footage off of the camera – and to my amazement, we’d just shot the most extraordinary footage. You’ll have to wait till the short film we’re making is finished!

Becalmed on our second day, Mahi swam around the boat, and Chris tried aimlessly to catch them out of pure boredom and hunger. Swimming around they refused to bite a hook, eat a sardine, or get tricked by a lure. Eventually, Chris decided to make his own lure, and with much optimism, threw it overboard. To my surprise, we had a big Mahi on deck just minutes later. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he hauled another in, before I had to have a shot and hauled yet another into the cockpit. Eating one with rice for dinner, we salted the rest in our drying rack for another day.

The ITCZ was wide, and we crossed through it without the engine. We did engine for 15nm at one stage, but only because the engine was required to recharge our batteries after a week without sunshine – I figured if I had to listen to the stupid engine, I may as well make some ground. 1200nm out from our landfall, in moderate seas and flukey winds, we rolled one too many times with a crashing main… This led to the sound of whizzing sheets and crunching on deck. I flew out the companionway and shouted the bad news to Chris: THE BOOM HAS SNAPPED. Headlamps on, we tided it all up, furled out some more jib, and went down below to ponder our situation and try to get some more sleep. I think we both lay in our bunks for the next several hours contemplating a fix, and the ramifications of the break. At daybreak, squalls rolled in for six hours before there was a dry spell, eventually giving us the opportunity to get on deck and sort the mess out.

The boom had broken due to corrosion from a stainless vang yoke, which was attached without due caution (anticorrosive grease/plastic separator). We cut out the break, made repairs to the mast-end of the boom, and re-connected everything. We had what looked like a fully functioning boom, with one caveat: It was now four feet too short. This only allowed us to run a fully reefed main. With the first reef, or a full, we had to run the main completely loose-footed, sheeted via a yoke system onto stern cleats. This destroyed our upwind ability, and made reefing very hard. Yet, when you’re sailing in remote oceans, there is no complaining or blaming to do – only repairs to keep positive forward motion at all cost. If one seeks independence and self-reliance, then one must take the good with the bad.

Just 3 hours after making repairs, immensely strong wind started blowing up from the southwest. Before long it was a genuine tropical gale. Very strong winds in excess of 35kts blew, as we lay hove-to with a fully reefed main upon our tiny jury-rigged boom. For 6 hours it blew, throwing up an awful sea. Exhausted from working on deck all day in rolling seas already, we lay in our bunks absolutely and utterly miserable. The next day we were still exhausted, the seas and winds still in a less than perfect state, and we opted to lay hove-to for a full 24 hours before the southwest winds subsided and began blowing from the northeast again.

Pushing on, we finally broke through the ITCZ and into the brisk SE trades. Having not really felt good solid wind for weeks, the SE trades were both a godsend and a bit of a shock. Suddenly we started doing 120nm days. Then 140nm days. Even with our jury-rigged main, we powered south, and spirits rose as we started knocking off real miles again.

The night before our landfall, running 4 lures off the stern of the boat, we hauled in two perfectly sized tuna. Chris sliced up sashimi, served with Wasabi and lime. Happily sitting below with headlamps on, the GPS showed just 40nm till landfall. A large moon rose, and the southern cross became clearly visible in the night sky. Everything was going to be ok. We’d made it. After 37 days at sea, and many adventures, two guys in a small boat sailed into Hiva Oa, to the sounds of roosters, superlative mountains, and circling Frigate birds.

The strange story of Constellation

This is a bit of a long-winded story, but bear with me: I’ve somehow regained ownership of Constellation, the boat I sailed from Europe to Australia, and I want to tell the story from the beginning – I promise it’s interesting, and it all starts at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, 55km southwest of London…

Next to the training ship Wishstream, a Camper & Nicholson 43, lay Prince Hamad, a Jeremy Rogers Contessa 26. Prince Hamad had been given to Sandhurst by a Middle Eastern prince as a leaving present for his son, who had done a course at the facility. The purpose of Prince Hamad, was to let competent cadets take her out by themselves, rather than sail Wishstream, which required an office to accompany them.

Unfortunately Prince Hamad broke free from her mooring in Alderney, when the crew were ashore and was a complete loss. Fortunately, Prince Hamad was replaced with a second Contessa 26, the aptly named Prince Hamad II, a baby-blue yacht launched 1972.

Prince Hamad II lived the life of a training ship for many years, before being bought up by a young family in the Southampton area, where she was sailed on weekends, and occasionally tacked across the channel to France. Renamed to Constellation, I like to think she was sailed to France purely for the purposes of loading the bilge up with Sauvignon Blanc and Gitanes, perilously returning on a lee-shore past the the foggy white cliffs of Dover…

Some years past, and Constellation ended up in Bursledon, a for-sale sign hanging from her bow: This is the bit where I come in. One cold day in Berlin, I called the yacht broker and offered them a quarter of the asking price, and a promise to pay the rest every month until the transaction was complete. The owners were romantics at heart, and decided it would be nice to have their old boat sail such a long way, and so the madness began. From that day in Berlin, until the day I arrived in Sydney, was very close to four years.

Constellation went on to: Sail through storms in the North Sea, ply the canals of Holland, cross the notorious Bay of Biscay, sail over the waters of Spain & Portugal in winter, voyage across the Atlantic ocean, visit the West Indies, haunt the Bermuda Triangle, anchor out front the Statue of Liberty, and hop a truck across the Rockies to 10,000ft, eventually arriving in Berkeley, California.

Re-assembled, she sailed to Hawaii, came within 50meters of being run down by a Korean tanker, dodged hurricanes en route to the mysterious Palmyra Atoll, survived a tsunami in Samoa, brought emergency rations to a stricken South Pacific Island, and eventually made her way to Sydney.

While my arrival in Australia was anti-climatic to say the least, it wasn’t long before the deluge of red tape and paperwork weighed me under, and I put Constellation up for sale, despite her charismatic sense of adventure. The combination of shear tiredness, and the monies needed to import the boat were beyond me – I sold Constellation in Sydney to a man named Chris, and six months later, Chris asked me to re-advertise Constellation, which is where Dave appears. Dave had a great sense of adventure, and dreamed of sailing to New Zealand. He bought and trucked Constellation to Melbourne, renamed her to Constellation II (for federal registration purposes), and we were all oddly re-aquatinted again. Dave worked on Constellation for a year, replaced the engine, installed a life raft, bought all the necessary accoutrements for offshore sailing, and set off for New Zealand.

Unfortunately the voyage didn’t go as planned, and Constellation II ended up being salvaged by fishermen in Bass Straight. Requiring emergency assistance, Dave was rescued by a Japanese grain tanker, and Constellation II was strapped to her tall sides. Unfortunately the speed of such a large vessel tore the cleats off, and Constellation II was set adrift, without her captain into the feared Straight.

Salvaged and returned to Dave after much negotiation, Constellation II has sat on her hard stand on the outskirts of Melbourne for over a year, in a dilapidated state. This is the part where I come in again…

Due to personal reasons and to ensure Constellation II might live on, Dave generously sold Constellation II back to me for $1, in the kind hope that I would have the energy and resources to revitalise her – he recognises she’s a special boat with a special history, and wishes her to live on as much as I do:

constellation

This is very exciting, surprising, and very generous – however Constellation II will take many man-hours, and many thousands of dollars to bring back to life, coupled with some immediate storage issues in her current situation. I cannot afford to do a refit at the moment, never expecting to be the owner of two ships – barely able to afford the fees to keep her locked up in the few greedy Australian marinas (that’s another story I might go into some other time)… So I’m not really sure what to do… However, I’ve vowed to make sure this old boat will live!

I think there are few boats on this earth with such a great story, although perhaps I’m biased…

What would you do? Any bright ideas?